Cover photo © 2020 Laura Carbone
In This Issue
Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Dave Keller. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including a book by Eddie Floyd with Tony Fletcher plus new music from The Kid Ramos/Bob Corritore ‘From The Vault’, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Cary Morin, Giuseppe and Rodrigo, and Shubalananda and Shivananda.
Featured Interview – Dave Keller
Dave Keller isn’t your ordinary bluesman. A late-bloomer who didn’t start singing until he was in his 20s, he’s tall, trim pleasant man who looks more like your next-door neighbor or local businessman – until he opens his mouth, and then…
Close your eyes when he starts vocalizing and you’ll think you’re listening to someone who grew up in the presence of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Solomon Burke or O.V. Wright on Beale Street. And man, you couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Although he’s grown familiar with the red-clay world that gave birth to those giants, he actually hails from the gently rolling hills and rocky soil of Vermont – something that becomes insignificant the moment he breaks into song.
A warm, well-spoken man and deep thinker who’s also a rock-solid guitar player, Keller has been paying his dues through most of his adult life, finally earning his place in the forefront of the music through perseverance and receiving multiple Blues Music Awards nominations for his efforts. But as Blues Blast learned in a recent interview, it almost didn’t happen.
Known now for his stellar songwriting skills and dynamic stage performance, he’s comfortable in multiple settings – everything from nine-piece bands with full horn sections to a stripped-down three-piece and playing solo acoustic on National steel guitar, too. In band settings, his powerful pipes charm enthusiastic audiences as he wanders through the crowd, accompanying himself on six-string without a mic.
A bluesman with a deep love for Southern soul and soul-blues, Keller’s only a Southerner at heart, having grown up in Worcester, Mass., a working-class city about 40 miles west of Boston, which helped welcome in the Industrial age in the 1800s. His mother has a beautiful voice and loves to sing, but has never done anything with it. But his father loved to spend Sundays on the sofa listening to opera and symphonies and attending them live when he could. They both encouraged Dave to pursue music.
A self-described “sensitive person who’s always felt the need to be creative…to persist until I reach my goals,” Dave took violin lessons “for a minute” in third grade – like many nice Jewish kids in that era — before turning to piano, then — finally — guitar for the first time at age 16.
“I went to my first concert at 11 and saw Styx at Boston Garden,” he recalls. “I was into a lot of different bands, but didn’t discover any black music until discovering Jimi Hendrix – and that didn’t happen until I was in college.”
He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. – a non-denominational college founded under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church. An English major, he spent all of his free time trying to figure out what Jimi was doing on the strings. “But I couldn’t make any headway,” Keller remembers.
“Then I read this book about Hendrix’s life and about how he went to Chicago to meet his idols…Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and people like that. So I said: ‘If the blues is good enough for Jimi Hendrix, it’s good enough for me!’”
He started tuning in regularly to the blues show on campus radio station WESU-FM, got hooked and went out to buy his first blues album, something, he says now, was a bit of a disaster because “it must be the worst one ever produced.” Entitled The Super Duper Blues Band and released on Chess’ Checker sister label in 1967, it was a disquieting six-song collaboration recorded by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley, all superstars in the field. Unfortunately, however, they did more joking around than making music in the six-song set.
“I almost gave up at that point,” Keller says, “but then I picked up a copy of Sonny Boy Williamson’s One Way Out. Everything about it — his voice, his energy and the meaningfulness of his lyrics – was great. This was the ‘80s, and most of the popular music – Madonna, Flock of Seagulls and Men Without Hats — was vapid. I needed something deeper to connect with my own feelings, and that was it!”
He was hooked. In his junior year, friends asked him to join their band, he says, simply because he owned a guitar. “I knew some basic bar chords and the blues scale,” he remembers. It was mostly a cover band called Cup O’Pizza that did punk renditions of Madonna tunes, swing renditions of punk tunes, and we had a lot of fun.”
Admittedly shy, a little introverted and aware he wasn’t a polished performer, Dave found that he actually enjoyed being on stage, adding: “I got so into the blues that I started taking lessons from Jon Geiger, who was going to Berklee College of Music at the time, who later made a name for himself in Austin before setting in L.A.
“He was super influential, my guru really. We’d sit the floor of his apartment and listen to B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Albert King records, dissecting them and just playing back and forth.”
Dave started hosting a pre-dawn blues show on the college station, getting deep into the voices of Albert King, Magic Sam, Otis Rush and country bluesmen Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Bukka White and Barbecue Bob, too. His record collection grew quickly supplemented by tapes of LPs borrowed from the station library.
His interest in the guitar amplified when he discovered Ronnie Earl while on the job one morning. “We were close to a local prison,” Keller says, “and we’d get requests. One day, this guy called and asked if I’d play Ronnie’s song, ‘Baby Doll Blues.’ I’d never played him — basically because I was turned off by the overflowing ashtrays, shot glasses and naked women on playing cards on the covers of his early albums – something I learned when Ronnie and I became friends later that he didn’t even want himself.
“I threw the record on and was just blown away. It’s a long, deep instrumental, and he just builds it and builds it, brings it down and brings it back up. I’d never heard anything like it.”
Dozens of top acts played clubs in the corridor between New York and Beantown, giving Dave the opportunity to catch Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Johnny Copeland, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Ronnie and several others in action. He’s still holding on to a list of everyone he saw back then today.
“And after graduation, I moved to Boston and saw Son Seals and Albert Collins, and Ronnie everywhere he played,” he recalls, watching him go into the audience using a 50-foot guitar cord and amazing audiences with spectacular, deep runs. “Once I saw him live, I said to myself: ‘That’s what I want to do!’ My dream for years and years was one day being up on stage and playing with him. I was 40 when I finally got to do it.”
Thanks to the schooling from Geiger and the inspiration he absorbed from LPs, Dave formed his own group, The Rhythm Method, in his senior year. But his first opportunity to play with a professional blues band came after sitting in with veteran vocalist Nate Simmons and his band, Gravy Hands, at jams in Middletown.
“It was great,” Keller says of the experience. “And then, one day, I got a call from him. His guitar player couldn’t make a gig, and he wanted me to fill in. The band came over and rehearsed in the basement of my house off-campus. They ran through some Lazy Lester, some Muddy, some Chuck Berry, and then we played the Rainbow Lounge in Moodus, Conn. – a real nightclub.
“It had red leather booths, and I was so taken with it. I was a fairly sheltered Jewish kid from the suburbs, and people were lettin’ loose, dancin’ and having a great time. It felt very real, in the moment and very honest – something that I hadn’t experienced very much before.”
Welcome to the blues! Keller made $25 for the gig and spent it all on flowers for his girlfriend.
“After the gig, I gave the harp player a ride home,” he remembers. “He was a crazy guy who told me some crazy, crazy stories…about him shooting up his girlfriend and her almost dying and other stuff. To me, it was another world!”
Dave was living in the suburb of Cambridge a few miles from downtown Boston when he decided to start another band. His apartment was down the street from Johnny D’s, the club where Monster Mike Welch’s parents were taking him to jam when he was 12 years old. Keller posted a note on the club’s bulletin board and soon hooked up with another veteran musician, Reggie Taylor.
A cousin to ‘60s blues/R&B star Jimmy McCracklin, Taylor had been a childhood gospel singer. He’d worked extensively with T-Bone Walker and Big Mama Thornton on the West Coast, but had been out of the music business for a decade after suffering a severe back injury in a wreck while on the road. “He was 49 or 50 with a real physical presence and unusual voice – deep when he was speaking and high when he sang,” Dave recalls. “He was forming a band, too, and wanted me to be his guitar player.”
Soon after, Keller joined a lineup that included keyboard player Eric “Two Scoops” Moore – now a fixture in Seattle who’s also worked with Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson and Earring George Mayweather — as well as a couple of Berklee professors.
“Reggie was my first mentor in the blues world,” Keller says. “We were great friends, but it didn’t take him and the other guys too long to figure out that I was the weak link. It really broke his heart when the other guys teamed up on him, told him it was either me or them and he asked me to go get some guitar lessons and come back another time (laughs)!”
Knowing that he was still young and green, Dave took the firing to heart. He was about to relocate to Colville, Wash., as a VISTA volunteer – now AmeriCorps – but started studying with the beloved Paul Rishell, one of the finest acoustic guitarists on the planet. They met one night when Rishell opened for Ronnie.
At the time, Keller was concerned that, once he moved West, he might not find any blues lovers for jams. He figured he’d have to play solo gigs, and was driven to improve both his playing and vocal skills so he could do it. Rishell helped him learn several old Delta, Piedmont and Texas tunes to accomplish the goal.
Once in the former fur trading outpost on the upper Columbia River, he says, he spent lunch hours driving to a hillside on the outskirts of town, where he sat on the hood of his car and performed along with Son House and Ray Charles tapes as well as the Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds and other gospel quartets — another passion.
“I was teaching myself to sing, and just loved the melding of their voices,” he says of the gospel acts. “What was cool was that there was always a place for my voice within those other voices.
“If you’re trying to learn by following the melody of one person, good luck! It’s difficult because your voice might be a little higher or lower in range. But if you sing along with quartets, there’s always a place to fit in – especially when they’re doing a call-and-response.”
Despite the prowess Keller exhibits today, he says he really didn’t recognize his own singing talent until he reached his 40s. “In college bands and a long time after that,” he insists – something hard to believe after hearing him perform.
“There’s this thing in America where some people think that if you’re not a prodigy when you’re young, you’re never gonna have it,” he adds. “But the reality is that there are prodigies and also folks who develop the talent after working on it for a long time to build it up – something we’re not encouraged to do.
“My true talent was my enthusiasm. From 20 to 30, I wouldn’t listen to anything if it wasn’t a blues record or radio show or live performance. I was completely one-minded about it because that’s what I loved. I was a kid from the Massachusetts suburbs. If I wanted to sing the blues, I really had to study it.
“The brain’s like a sponge and you soak it all in. When you go to sing or play guitar, it’s like you’re squeezing that sponge. It sounds kinda funny, but I didn’t want to soak up any pop influences.”
Keller resettled in Vermont a year later to be closer to his family, performing solo and working day jobs before forming a band again in ’96. They had a regular biweekly gig at a joint near the University of Vermont campus, where they made “$200 a night and all the beer and pizza they could eat.”
Two years later, one of his friends was booking a festival in New Hampshire, and Dave suggested that he add Mighty Sam McClain – someone he considered to be the “finest soul and blues singer in the world” — to the lineup, knowing the Louisiana-born vocalist was now living in the Green Mountain State.
A performer on the chittlin circuit from age 13 and best known for the song “Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whisky),” McClain passed in 2015, leaving behind a legacy that included recording in Muscle Shoals in the ‘60s, performances at Lincoln Center in New York, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., international tours, about 20 albums and multiple Blues Music Awards nominations.
Keller made the recommendation with one stipulation, he says. “I told him that if you do hire him, you’ve got to let me open for him, and I don’t care if I get paid.”
After meeting Sam and his wife, Sandra, Dave gave them a copy of his first CD, the long-out-of-print, self-produced Faith. “One of my favorite moments of my life,” he says, “was getting out of the shower one day and seeing the light beeping on my answering machine. I hit the button, and there’s Mighty Sam McClain tellin’ me how much he enjoyed my record and sayin’ he and Sandra were dancin’ around the kitchen to it.”
It was the beginning of a close friendship in which McClain became a major teacher and supporter, encouraging Dave throughout his struggles and offering up guidance wherever he could about both the music world and life in general. “A lot of it was spiritual, too,” Keller says. “’Everything in God’s time,’ he’d tell me. ‘He might not come when you want, but He’ll always come on time!’”
Another mentor is soul-blues giant Johnny Rawls, a relationship that began about a decade ago when they met at the Vermont Blues Festival. After the show, Johnny invited him to sit in on guitar at in a jam at a ski lodge for booked artists even though Keller hadn’t been part on the bill.
“We’re playin’ some up-tempo song,” Dave says, “and he motions for me to take a solo. I was nervous, and the room was packed. I start playin’, and Johnny immediately tells the band: ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ He says: ‘Hold on, Dave.’
“The whole band drops to a whisper, and Johnny’s like: ‘Too many notes, Dave. Too many notes. Try three. Or four, maybe.’”
It’s a lesson that Keller understands today, he says, noting: “Whoever came up with this idea that faster is better…it doesn’t make any sense. It’s whoever moves you. That’s what’s important!”
Despite the inauspicious start, Dave quickly calmed down and delivered a well-received, soulful solo. Obviously pleased, Rawls kept him up for the entire show, even letting him front the band for a couple of songs while he took a break. At the end of the night, Johnny looked over his shoulder and said: “Stay in touch, Dave. I might need you.”
Now close friends, Keller’s band usually back Rawls when he tours New England, a relationship that began at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Maine, the largest event of its kind on the East Coast. They played with a set list that Dave saw briefly before Johnny snatched from his hand for himself because he didn’t have another copy. Instead, he offered up the simple advice: “When you get the groove, don’t never change it!”
“I’m very grateful for all the lessons,” Keller says. “Johnny tells me: ‘The stuff I’m showin’ you, man, other people aren’t goin’ to have what you have because you’re learning it directly from me – and I learned it directly from O.V. Wright, Z.Z. Hill and Joe Tex.’ And he’s right!”
Another guiding light was the late guitarist Robert Ward, a founding father of the Ohio Untouchables, the group that evolved into the Ohio Players, one of the foremost R&B bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s, after he left. A truly distinctive blues artist who recorded powerful, distinctive albums for both Black Top and Delmark, he and Dave met when Keller and his ex-wife hired him to play their wedding in 2000. They became close after the lovebirds spent time with Ward and his huge family at his home in Dry Branch, Ga.
“Check out all the guitar players and you’ll find that no one sounds like Robert Ward,” Keller insists. “Our first dance was ‘Your Love Is Amazing,’ a song he wrote when he was 16. That moment was like dancing in a swirl of stars. His voice was so rich, his guitar sound…that vibrato in his fingers…it was beyond belief.
“There are very few guitar players who have truly a unique sound. Snooks Eaglin is one of them, and Robert is another. But most of the others today sound a good chunk like someone else. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan had a lot of Albert King and Hendrix in him.”
Sadly, that happy event proved to be Ward’s final gig. Sixty-two at the time, he suffered the first of multiple strokes about six months later, tragically trapping him in his body and barely able to communicate for the final eight years of his life.
Dave’s first footprints on the national blues scene came in 2010, when he guested on Earl’s BMA-nominated Living in the Light CD, singing several songs, some of which he composed with Ronnie. The hook-up occurred after a chance meeting that was truly an incident that showed the truth of Mighty Sam’s advice.
“My brother, Greg, called and told me that Stevie Wonder was going to play at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, where the Patriots play,” he remembers. “I went with him and my keyboard player, Ira Friedman. We walked in the gate and I see this guy right in front of me wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Marvin Gaye – War Is Not the Answer.’ I have that same T-shirt. I’d gotten it the year before from my mom for my birthday, and I’d never seen another one like it before or since.
“I look up to see who’s wearin’ it. This guy’s got these little rosy-colored spectacles, a little scruff and a little hat – and I thought: ‘That looks like Ronnie Earl!’
“I said: ‘Ronnie?’ And he goes: ‘Yes! Who are you?’ I coulda peed my pants! I was 40 and he’d been my idol for 20 years. For half my life, I’d been wanting to do what he was doing…trying to play with that much fire and that much soul. We got to talking, and he was super nice. He asked me about my band, and we exchanged info.
“I sent him a letter, thanking him for being my inspiration, and tucked in my CD, Play for Love. A couple of days later, my girls were having a play date in the backyard and I get this phone call: ‘Hi, Dave. This is Ronnie!’ I had butterflies…like somebody was going to ask you to the prom or somethin’.
“’I wanted to know that I got your lovely letter, and I really appreciate it,’ he says. ‘I’m going to listen to your CD. Have a great day!’”
Keller drove one of his kids’ friends home and returned to discover another message: “Hi Dave. It’s Ronnie. I just wanted you to know that I listened to your record and I just want you to know that it’s so-o-o… (long pause)…”
“It was like a life-and-death moment,” Keller recalls. “If he says something nice, I’m through the roof. If he doesn’t, it’s over (laughs).”
It was a blessing, he says, when Earl continued: “…Your music is so-o-o beautiful – and I hear myself playing on it. I’m gonna tell my record company about you, and I want people to hear you.”
After the release of the album and the success that followed, Dave made his first trip to Memphis for the ensuing BMA awards ceremony and realized – after following the music through publications and recordings for so many years – that the trip was proof that all of his devotion and effort had paid off.
But that night was only a hint of what was to come.
Dave’s interest in Southern soul kicked into high gear almost immediately as he plunged into the extensive catalog of Hi Records, the label whose roster has included everyone from Al Green and Ann Peebles to O.V. Wright and Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and dozens more.
Longing to recreate their sound in a modern form, Keller realized it’s virtually impossible for most musicians to remain objective about their own singing and playing. He needed a producer, and found one in Bob Perry. His work on an album he produced for The Revelations, a New York-based deep-soul group fronted by Tré Williams, immediately caught Keller’s ear.
“When I heard that record, it sounded like Hi, but a little more modern,” he says. “So I reached out to Bob, and he was interested in working with me.”
It was a marriage made in heaven. Instead of new tunes, Perry insisted on doing an album that consisted solely of obscure soul covers. They dipped into the catalogs of some of the best tunesmiths ever – Arthur Alexander, Clarence Carter, George Jackson, Ward and Sir Mac Rice among them. The Revelations provided backing vocals, and the end result, Where I’m Coming From, was so polished and so evocative that it was crowned best self-produced album at the 2012 International Blues Challenge.
Their follow-up, Soul Changes, proved to be another treasure that made it to the finals in the soul-blues category at the 2014 BMAs. Recorded in Memphis, it features several originals, including “17 Years,” which was co-written with Darryl Carter, the same hit maker – and now friend – who’s responsible for the Wright standard “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” Bobby Womack’s “Remember, I’ve Been Good to You” and a whole lot more.
“That was a real experience!” Keller exclaims, because he also got to work with several of the biggest session players from Stax and Hi, including Charles, Leroy and Teenie Hodges, the brothers who were all members of the original Hi Rhythm Section with dozens of gold and platinum albums to their credit.
“I never thought I’d ever get anything like that,” Dave says. “And what made it all the more special was that my Vermont fans funded most of it through a Kickstarter campaign.”
Dave’s next studio effort, Every Soul’s a Star, was supervised by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines and was released on Catfood Records, the same label on which Rawls records – a partnership that came about through Johnny’s introduction. An all-original set save for one cover, it was a BMA finalist last year.
“I love Jim,” Keller says. “He’s such a sweet guy, and he’s hilarious. He refers to himself as ‘the picky bastard,’ and he really is. But he knows what’s good, and he’s got a great ear and great ideas, coming up with the exact thing that brings a song together. What I really learned from him was believing and trusting in yourself.”
Another album, Live at the Killer Guitar Thriller!, followed just prior to the onset of COVID-19. Released on Keller’s Tastee-Tone imprint, it was captured by a member of the audience on a stereo mic at an event sponsored by the Bucks County Blues Society in suburban Philadelphia. A complete departure from his previous efforts, it features more guitar and straight-ahead blues than Dave usually performs. The recording quality proved so good despite ambient crowd noise on occasion that he decided he just had to release it.
Despite the extended shutdown, Keller’s remained extremely busy, assembling a project that even more different. It’s a collection of 13 duets entitled You Get What You Give, and just about everything was recorded long-distance with some of the biggest names and some of the best unknown voices in the business.
The set features Dave at the mic with Rawls, Trudy Lynn, Joe Louis Walker, Annika Chambers-DesLauriers, Annie Mack and Dawn Tyler Watson as well as Brother Bob White, Carly Harvey, Toussaint St. Negritude, Katie Henry and Chad Hollister, and all proceeds will be targeted to causes that promote racial equality and justice.
The vocalists are backed by musicians from across the U.S. and Canada, and the roster includes Mark Earley, Ben Collette, Rock Romano, Francois Thiffault, Matt Patrick, Scott Petito, Paul DesLauriers, David Gorozdos and Chris Burns, among others, all of whom recorded from home and donated their efforts to the cause. Keller’s regular band – Friedman on keys, Jay Gleason on drums and Alex Budney on bass –worked at a safe distance as they laid down their parts in a studio in Vermont.
The scheme came together when Dave found himself one morning awoke and troubled by both his own inability to tour and because of the protests and occurring across the nation following the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I thought that as a blues musician, as a white musician who’s made his whole career out of playing black music and whose mentors for the most part were black, it was time for me to give back,” he says. “It’s my way of telling people it’s time to step up and do good stuff instead of just sitting back and clicking ‘like’ on their computers.
“It’s important for not just black people to be talking about these issues and making their voices heard. White people need to be by their side in support and to make it known that we need to bring about change in this country.
“Systemic racism is real. Anyone who says it isn’t… I don’t want to put people down, but you need to listen to your black sisters and brothers and believe their stories because are not making this stuff up. People need to believe black voices. And those of us who have learned from and benefited from the blues culture, owe a debt to help make the world a more just place.”
Keller had written several tunes since his most recent studio album and knew they “were just sitting there,” so he decided to donate them to the cause. “I put out the concept on social media,” he says, “and it immediately started blowing up. And once I came up with the idea of doing duets, I wanted to include people who aren’t well-known to try and help them out, too.”
Like the overall message of the CD, he says, they also deserve to be heard, but don’t have money or promoters behind them. Every penny of the proceeds with be going to groups that include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Jus’ Blues Foundation and several other, lesser known organizations that support the cause. If you’d like to hear some great tunes and help out, too, the album is available as a CD or digital download by visiting www.davekeller.bandcamp.com.
A humble man who shares custody of two young daughters, Keller’s looking forward to getting back on the road, something he doesn’t do as much as others because of a life situation he wouldn’t trade for the world. He’s deeply grateful for the opportunities he’s received through the support and encouragement of his fan base.
Last March, he was in the midst of a Southern tour when the shutdown came, and looking forward to his first-ever European tour. Those dates are tentatively rescheduled for next spring, but Dave’s raring to go. Check out Dave’s tunes and where, hopefully, he’ll be playing next by visiting his website: www.davekeller.com.
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
The Kid Ramos/Bob Corritore – Phoenix Blues Sessions
Originally hurriedly released as a fund raiser for Kid Ramos in 2012, this revised and remastered version is now commercially available and represents Ramos’ and Bob Corritore’s collaborative efforts from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Featuring a host of great seasoned singers fronting the band, we get some classic old tunes reimagined for us. Three of the tracks are previously unreleased and one is an alternate take.
Ramos handles the guitar on all tracks as Corritore plays the harp. Chico Chism plays drums throughout and sings on one track. Henry Gray plays pinao on 5 cuts and sings on four of them. Nappy Brown fronts the band for a pair of tunes as does Chief Schabuttie Gilliame and Big Pete Pearson. Dr. Fish also sings on one. Johnny Rapp adds guitar and/or mandolin on all but one track and Paul Thomas plays bass on all but the opening track (Mario Moreno fills in there). Tom Mahon handles the piano on 6 other tracks.
Nappy Brown sings on “Aw Shucks Baby” and “Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes.” Corritore blazes on harp as the band sets a nice beat behind the legendary singer in the first cut. The band again lays down a groove and Corritore shines on harp again. Brown begs his woman sweetly to do anything she wants (but not to tear his clothes) in his deep baritone. Henry Gray sings and plays piano on “Come On In,” “I Held My Baby Last Night,” “They Raided The Joint” and “Talkin’ Bout You.” Gray sings with his seasoned passion. Ramos’ guitar stings on “Come On In” Gray’s piano plays a big and cool role in “I Held My Baby Last Night” in a pretty, slow blues. He shouts and romps on the keys on “They Raided The Joint” and “Talkin’ Bout You.” “24 Hours” features Dr. Fish fronting the band in a passionate and slick slow blues. Chief Schabuttie Gilliame growls out the leads on “No More Doggin’” and “Snakes Crawl At Night.” Ramos bangs out some nice and dirty licks and Tom Mahon on piano does a fine job, too, as does Corritore. Both are down and dirty slow blues done in fine style. Big Pete Pearson sings for us in “Natural Ball” and “Possum In My Tree” and provides some swinging good blues in the prior and excellent slow blues in the latter for us to enjoy. Ramos’ guitar work in the latter is also primal and cool. The last singer to note is Chico Chism on “Mother In Law Blues.” The pace is slow and the band plays with restraint as Chism sings emotionally and Ramos plays with thoughtful restraint and feeling to match the mood.
All in all, it’s a great album featuring some classic old front men doing what they do best. What’s a little lacking is how much Kid Ramos is featured. There are few solos and cuts where his guitar takes center stage. What’s there is great, but I kind of expected more of Kid Ramos’ guitar virtuosity, but all in all it’s a great album anyway. Kudos to Mr. Corritore for giving us a dozen savory treats for us to enjoy!
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Eddie Floyd with Tony Fletcher – Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood: My Life In Soul
302 pages – Hardcover edition
As a songwriter and singer, Eddie Floyd has had many hit records, none bigger than the classic that he co-wrote with guitarist Steve Cropper, “Knock On Wood,” a song that has been covered hundreds of times by artists across many musical genres, including the smash disco version by singer Amii Stewart.
Floyd’s career has had many twist and turns, which he details in this exciting autobiography that is hard to put down. The singer gets an assist for writer Tony Fletcher, originally from England, but residing in America for the last three decades. Fletcher has authored a number of books, including a biography of another legendary singer, In The Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett.
Growing up in Alabama, Floyd was raised by his mother, who frequently went to visit her brother in Detroit, often taking her son to shows musical revues at the famed Fox Theater. Floyd always envisioned himself as a singer, and quickly realized that Detroit had far more to offer than Montgomery, Alabama. He made several attempts to get back up north on his own, never getting out of his home state. His running around finally got the attention of the authorities, leading to an arrest for unspecified charges.
Floyd was sentenced to a three year stint at Mount Meigs, a reform school for Negro juveniles under fifteen years old. For many youngsters, that type of sentence would harden attitudes that would lead to more serious crimes upon release. But Floyd saw his time there as a blessing. After two more attempts at escape, he settled down, singing in the school church, and learning the art of vocalizing from one of his teachers.
When he regained his freedom, fate quickly fulfilled his dream of going to live with his uncle in Detroit. Soon he is part of a interracial vocal group with five members, calling themselves the Falcons. When the two white members joined the military, the group hired Sir Mack Rice to fill in. Rice became a noted songwriter, with hits like ‘Mustang Sally,” “Respect Yourself,” and “Cold Women With Warm Hearts”.
The group recorded several sessions, including one for Chess Records, before hitting the charts with “You’re So Fine”. Soon they were touring the country and making an appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. When lead singer Joe Stubbs decided to go out on his own after their hit record, his replacement was Wilson Pickett, who immediately lead the way on a scorching take of his original tune, “I Found A Love”. The ensuing success meant more traveling and acclaim, which soon lead to Pickett seeking his own way, and the end of the Falcons.
From there, Floyd moved to the Washington D.C. Area, where he was involved in a number of projects. At one point, he meets a radio DJ, Al Bell, who migrates to Memphis, where he soon becomes a main player in the Stax Records operation. Floyd is writing songs, one of which Carla Thomas places on the charts, and Solomon Burke records another of his tunes.
Once Floyd makes the move to Memphis, he becomes a key part of Stax, getting paired up with Steve Cropper to form a dynamic songwriting team. One of their early efforts,”634-5789,” was a smash hit for Pickett, although originally meant for Otis Redding, while other songs were recorded by Sam & Dave, Thomas, and the Mad Lads vocal group. During a writing session one evening at the Lorraine Motel, they hit on the idea that was transformed into “Knock On Wood,” which became Floyd’s first major hit, and ensured his place in the soul pantheon.
The Stax Records story has been told many times in great detail. Floyd gives readers an insider’s perspective, sharing his memories of the highlights of his own success, and his contributions to the label’s rise to prominence. He also lays out his thoughts on what ultimately lead to the label’s downfall. He continued to chart with songs like “I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do),” “Raise Your Hand,” and “Big Bird,” written as Floyd was attempting to fly home from a European tour in time for Redding’s funeral.
Floyd’s easy-going manner of telling his story, burnished by Fletcher, keeps things interesting as story moves beyond Stax. The songwriting and hits continue with album releases on the Malaco and Ichiban labels. Another turning point is Floyd’s involvement in the Blues Brothers phenomenon, fronting the band after it reformed for a reunion tour, singing on several band recordings, and getting exposed to a whole new audience after Dan Aykroyd wrote him into the script for the Blues Brothers 2000 feature film.
The book also includes sixteen glossy pages of photos spanning his career, including the only photo of the original Falcons.
It has been a remarkable journey for Eddie Floyd. His willingness to share the high points as well as those moments that took him through darkness inject a spirit of genuineness that will keep you reading page after page. It is a story well told, of a man and his impact on the world of soul music.
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers – Volume 1
10 songs – 46 minutes
Once in a while, artists release albums with little fanfare that just knock your socks off. Volume 1 is just such an album, from the intriguingly named New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers. Of course, one might expect great things when one learns that that the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers is actually a smorgasbord of leading blues and roots musicians. Too often in the past, however, roots “super groups” have disappointed their audiences by releasing recordings of flaccid jams and/or egotistical meanderings. Thankfully, there is no filler on Volume 1 – and Volume 2 is set to be released in Spring 2021 – just a marvelous collection of top-class musicians playing at the top of their game and evidentially having a lot of fun along the way.
The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers actually originated in November 2007 when Luther and Cody Dickinson arranged a jam session at their dad’s place. Their dad, of course, being Jim Dickinson, owner of Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi and a Memphis music legend for decades. In addition to the Dickinson family members, also in attendance were ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers leader, Jimbo Mathus, and blues legends Charlie Musselwhite and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Chris Chew contributed bass and Paul Taylor added tub bass. The music was recorded live over a couple of days, with each player taking it in turn to lead a song or two. Sadly, Jim Dickinson passed on in 2009 and the recording was consigned to the archives. When Stony Plain founder Holger Petersen learned of the existence of the tapes, he expressed an interest in releasing them and Luther and Kevin Houston finished production on the album.
The result is 10 tracks of glorious blues-roots-Americana, played with tangible joy and gleeful abandon. Musselwhite contributes two of his own songs (the magnificent “Strange Land” – originally released on Musselwhite’s debut album in 1967 – may be the high point of the album) as well as contributing his ageless voice to the Memphis Jug Band’s classic “K.C. Moan”. Elsewhere, the Rockers delight in re-imagining the likes of Charlie Patton (“Pony Blues”) and traditional fare such as “Shake It And Break It” and “Come On Down To My House”. Even the more well-known covers (Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free”) are given a new lease of life, sounding somehow new and different even though they actually remain relatively faithful to the originals.
Mixing electric and acoustic instrumentation with rare ease and facility, the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers create a rambunctious and exuberant atmosphere that is impossible to resist. Hart’s laughter at the end of “Stone Free” captures the album in microcosm. The production is uniformly excellent and the result is that Volume 1 is easily one of the most impressive releases of 2020. Roll on 2021 and the release of Volume 2.
Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Cary Morin – Dockside Saints
12 tracks; 51 minutes
Cary Morin’s Dockside Saints is a stylistically intriguing album, merging a laid-back Creole, Zydeco sound, with Cary’s Piedmont blues finger picking style that reflects the native cultures of the south mixed with his Montana Crow tribal heritage. While this musical potpourri seems an unlikely mixture, it works beautifully to create a listening experience akin to the blending of zydeco and delta blues with American roots genres.
The album’s title, Dockside Saints, pays homage to where they recorded the twelve tracks — Dockside Studio in Maurice, LA, a twelve-acre retreat in which musicians stay to create, rather than pay by the hour. Hundreds of talented musicians have made albums there, from New Orleans legend Dr. John to Levon Helm, the Band, Rod Stewart, and the legendary B.B. King who gifted the studio Lucille.
The album was produced and engineered by multi-Grammy winning producer/engineer, Tony Daigle and Mastered by Jim Demain at Yes Master in Nashville, TN.
Dockside Saints reflects the feel of musical camaraderie with a talented lineup of musicians including bassist Lee Allen Zeno, drummer Brian Brignac, accordionist Corey Ledet, Eric Adcock on keys, Celeste Di Iorio on harmony vocals, Keith Blair and John Fohl on electric guitar and Beau Thomas on fiddle. Cary Morin has composed and written all the songs, sings vocals and plays acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar.
“Nobody Gotta Know” starts off the album with drumbeat and a holler reminiscent of the Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” but immediately breaks into a good timing dance tune featuring the full band with guitar and keyboard solos in the break.
From here on the album takes a more serene spiritual and romantic turn with Cary’s Piedmont blues finger picking style setting the rhythmic pace — a distinctive alternating thumb bass string pattern supported by a syncopated melody using the treble strings.
“Exception to the Rule” is a mellow love song with a 4/4 beat with Cary’s haunting voice acknowledging he’s “not easy to be around, but you help me see the light” and letting his loved one know “everything is better next to you.”
“Prisoner” features Cary’ solo guitar and voice breaking into a blues lament recognizing that “anything I do, I do alone” but coming to the realization that it’s time for him to take charge of his own life singing “Think it’s time I’ve gotta be somebody too.”
Opening with a slide guitar introducing the melody “Because He Told Me So” is a spiritual song, replete with back-up singers, reaffirming his faith as he wanders through the world. “Chosen Road” also reflects the spiritual acceptance of the path that was chosen for him in life.
“Valley of the Chiefs” stands out as a ballad closer to his Crow tribal heritage, woven with the melodies from the fiddle and electric guitar.
Dockside Saints additional tracks continues to weave the Zydeco sounds of fiddle and accordion with Cary’s blues style .
Reviewer Gloria Reiss is a graduate of UC Berkeley in literature and UCLA in computer science. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, a town she loves for the redwoods, ocean and blues community.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Giuseppe and Rodrigo – Met at the Mississippi
CD: 10 Songs, 37 Minutes
Styles: Acoustic Blues, Harmonica Blues, Duo Album, Debut Album
You’ve got to hand it to first-timers. Those who debut in any scene, whether music, movies, art, literature or other arenas, give their all for three chief reasons. First, their passion for their work exceeds their fear of failure, which can be a huge obstacle. Secondly, it demonstrates their ambition and initiative. Thirdly – and this is a daunting prospect – it could be their only chance to prove themselves to themselves and the world. Digital media continues to make debuting easier. St. Louis’ Giuseppe (D’Amelio) and Rodrigo (Reis) have taken full advantage Their freshman release contains ten acoustic and harmonica blues songs: seven originals and three covers. “St. James Infirmary Blues” is the most recognizable of these last. The other two, “Bright Nights” and “One Kind Favor” were written by Celso Carvalho and Geraldo Luiz Artiga D’Arbilly, and Jules Taub and Sam Hopkins, respectively.
The CD itself pays homage to the Mississippi River, to which “the story of the blues is inextricably tied,” as it says in the liner notes. Giuseppe and Rodrigo met playing the blues jam circuit in early 2018. Both were relatively new to St. Louis and trying to get as much music into their lives as possible. Giuseppe had neglected his instrument for a few years and was playing the jam circuit to get back in shape. Rodrigo was a new transplant from Brazil looking for anybody passionate about music to play with. It took several months of compliments and encouraging nudges when they were called together at the jams before the idea of trying some acoustic songs together came up.
Here’s the good news: These two know how to play real-deal blues. Their sound is authentic, lacking showy tricks and gimmicks. This is the kind of music people played on their front porches and in local taverns, not to jam-packed stadiums. Their vocals, however, are heavily accented and nearly indecipherable in many songs. This can’t be helped, but it can be augmented by clearer diction and tighter phrasing. On acoustic duo albums, lyrics take center stage by default. There’s no raucous backup band or backing tracks to mask them. Nevertheless, the guitar’s good and the harp is hale and hearty. Perhaps that’s the final verdict, the lowdown, the take-away here.
Giuseppe and Rodrigo succeed on instrumentation in their debut, Met at the Mississippi!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Shubalananda and Shivananda – Two Sadhus’ Blues
CD: 13 Songs, 54 Minutes
Styles: Indian/Eastern Blues, Blues Covers
One of the best things about the blues is how it’s spread all across the globe. It sports immense popularity, even in countries as culturally and physically distant from its origin as India. When we Westerners think of Indian music, we think of meditative droning, copious use of sitar, and maybe George Harrison. Blues is not the first word that comes to mind. However, Shubal “Shub” Kopp (who is now based in Massachusetts) and his co-performer Shivananda “Shiv” Sharma prove that classical Indian music and classic blues can be beautifully combined on their new album, Two Sadhus’ Blues. It features thirteen tracks: five originals and eight covers, including opener “You Don’t Have to Go” by Jimmy Reed, “Mellow Down Easy” by Little Walter, “Fixin’ to Die” by Booker White, and “Two Trains Runnin’” by Muddy Waters. Shub and Shiv pay personal homage to McKinley Morganfield on the sixth song, “Muddy Waters.”
This concept album was inspired by Shivananda’s last visit to the USA. Shub and Shiv went into the studio intending to bring Eastern-influenced instruments and melodies to Mississippi Delta Blues. The result is highly intriguing, but it works more effectively on some tracks than others (the nine-minute nirvana trance of “End of Time” versus the all-too-brief first number). In the opinion of yours truly, the Eastern sound develops best when it’s not compressed into a 2:58 timeframe. On vocals, Shubal and Shivananda can be more clearly understood than some American artists. With that said, their accents are pronounced. The overall impression is one of skillful fusion.
Shubalananda Saraswati, aka Larry/Shub Kopp, began his musical career early in life. His love for the blues came from Harry Belafonte, Elvis, and the rockabilly movement. When he was nine, he and his friends would lip-sync to old Muddy Waters and Little Walter records. By the age of 22, he was traveling with the Brooklyn Bluesbusters around New York, playing Chicago blues with John Leslie Nuzzo. He eventually formed the Larry Kopp Band, which played jazz and blues music in the northeast region of the US. As for Shivananda, he’s one of India’s great gems. He began his musical career at age two, sitting in his father’s lap as he played and performed professionally. By age seven, this prodigy had learned to sing all the rags and taals of Indian classical music. He and Shub have been traveling and touring for years, combining their love of both musical genres.
Joining Shub (guitars/vocals) and Shiv (tablas/Indian violin) are Ashley Flagg on vocals and songwriting for “All My Heart,” Jason Moses on violin for “Minglewood,” and Bob Veronelli on bass.
Classical Indian music is meant to inspire peace and tranquility. In a way, so is the blues. It’s meant to drive away a melancholy mood and the pain of heartache. These two genres aren’t so far apart!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
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